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April 21, 2015

April 21, 2015

Why China Votes ‘No’ on TPA | Commentary

By Jay Chittooran

With a deal reached on trade promotion authority (TPA, or fast track), pro-trade and anti-trade advocates are ramping up their case. But amid this ongoing battle is a surprising player who desperately wants a deal to go down: China.

Critics of TPP often warn that it will hurt blue-collar workers in the United States and weaken labor standards globally. Supporters believe TPP will create net new manufacturing and service-sector jobs while also raising global standards, particularly labor protections. They point to substantially improved U.S. trade balances in the blue collar goods sector for trade deals concluded since 2000.

Full story

April 20, 2015

Rush to Judgment | Commentary

By Barry M. Blechman

When the U.S. and its negotiating partners surprised the world on April 2 by concluding the framework for an agreement that would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons for an absolute minimum of 10 years (and probably for much longer), one would have thought critics of the talks might have waited a few seconds to excoriate the deal. Indeed, a reasonable person might have concluded, “Well, Iran’s progress toward a bomb has been halted for the nearly two years that it took to conclude this framework agreement, let’s give the negotiators the three more months they’ve allowed themselves to write down the actual, detailed agreement and then take a look at it.”

But of course “reason” cuts no ice in Washington anymore, even when it pertains to foreign policy and crucial issues such as nuclear proliferation. What matters are political ambitions and the money required to fulfill them. Indeed, the Republicans attempted to pre-empt the framework talks before they succeeded by lending the bully pulpit of a joint congressional session to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then — in an unprecedented act — writing a letter to the leaders of Iran seeking to undermine the U.S. position in the talks. (Imagine the Democrats in Congress writing to Ho Chi Minh in 1972 warning him they would not support the agreement to end the Vietnam War Henry Kissinger was negotiating in Paris.) Full story

5 Years After BP Oil Spill, Focus on Restoration — Not Misinformation | Commentary

By Douglas J. Meffert, David Muth and Steve Cochran

It’s been five years since images of oil-soaked pelicans, dead turtles and contaminated shorelines along the Gulf Coast shocked our national consciousness. Half a decade after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 men and unleashing the worst marine oil spill in U.S. history, BP would like you to believe that everything is back to normal along the Gulf Coast. In reality, BP has not yet truly accepted responsibility for the enormity of the damages it caused. Its recent Gulf of Mexico Environmental Recovery and Restoration report states that “most environmental impact from the accident was limited in duration and geography, and the natural resources that were affected are rebounding.” The scientific authority on the spill – the trustees of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, said this in response: “BP misinterprets and misapplies data while ignoring published literature that doesn’t support its claims.” In this battle of PRs – public relations vs. peer-reviewed science, we side with science.

As leaders in national environmental organizations working with local partners to address Louisiana’s land loss crisis, here’s the reality. We’re still seeing persistent re-oiling of habitats like barrier islands and nesting habitats along Louisiana’s coast. The day after BP released its report, a 25,000 pound tar mat of BP oil was found on a Louisiana barrier island. Up to 10 million gallons of oil were recently discovered on the Gulf floor, creating a “bathtub ring” of oil the size of Rhode Island around the site of the disaster. Ongoing effects to wildlife persist: dolphins in badly-oiled Barataria Bay are dying at a rate four times higher than normal; fish such as mahimahi hatched in oiled areas have reduced swimming abilities; an estimated 800,000 birds died as a result of the disaster. And the spill worsened land loss in areas that received heavy oil, a continued blow as Louisiana confronts having lost 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s — an area the size of Delaware.

Louisiana may be the state most directly impacted, but the situation we face is an American crisis. The area in Louisiana known as the Mississippi River Delta houses our nation’s most critical energy infrastructure, largest ports, busiest shipping corridors and leading commercial seafood producers – not to mention being home to 2 million people and countless birds, fish and other wildlife. America is stronger both economically and ecologically when the Gulf is stronger. Despite the extremely high stakes, BP’s continued use of misinformation, stall tactics, publicity campaigns and legal maneuvering means our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save this precious region could be lost.

Still, we remain optimistic. In the aftermath of the oil spill, we worked with leaders at the state and federal levels to pass the RESTORE Act, ensuring that 80 percent of civil Clean Water Act penalties from the oil spill will go to the Gulf Coast states for restoration. This funding coupled with Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan — a one-of-a-kind blueprint for restoring the Mississippi River Delta through a series of comprehensive, science-based solutions — means we have significant tools to provide protection for people, wildlife and habitats. The state is already implementing projects that can begin to ensure lasting, sustainable restoration for this incredibly important region. However, Louisiana can’t do it alone.

On this landmark anniversary of the Gulf oil disaster, we urge our leaders to make comprehensive and lasting Gulf Coast restoration a priority for the benefit of millions of Americans and for generations to come. We applaud the efforts of the Department of Justice to hold BP accountable — and we ask that they continue to do so. As we await the ruling from the third and final phase of the civil trial, it’s time for BP to stop stalling and accept full responsibility, so that the Gulf can heal and long term restoration can move ahead.

We also ask the RESTORE Council, overseer of funds from the RESTORE Act, to ensure that projects truly geared toward Gulf-wide, lasting restoration are funded and that work begins immediately. We need our leaders to make good on their promises to see restoration through, by ensuring that the RESTORE Council funds its initial funded priority projects list and updates its comprehensive plan. Additionally, our campaign has worked with citizens and policymakers across Louisiana to identify 19 priority projects, all in Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, that we believe deserve prioritization because they have the most potential to achieve lasting restoration.

We all have an urgent calling to save the Mississippi River Delta, one of America’s greatest national treasures. Yet despite BP’s claims, five years later, we have a long way to go before the Gulf is back to normal and meaningful restoration is achieved. On the anniversary of one of the most destructive environmental catastrophes in recent history, we ask the American people and our leaders to not be distracted by PR, to stay the course and to make comprehensive Gulf restoration a priority for America.

Douglas J. Meffert is vice president and executive director of Audubon Louisiana; David Muth, is the director, Gulf Restoration, of the National Wildlife Federation; and Steve Cochran, is director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, of the Environmental Defense Fund.

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April 17, 2015

Iran Framework Could Yield Middle East Nuclear Proliferation | Commentary

By Rep. Charlie Dent

A robust national discussion on the recently presented framework regarding the Iranian nuclear program is critical and congressional review is essential. First, we need to be clear: There is no nuclear agreement with Iran. We are told a framework exists — although neither side apparently agrees on its details.

Consider Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s April 9 declaration that all sanctions be removed the day an agreement is signed. This demand directly and irreconcilably contradicts President Barack Obama’s interpretation of the framework. This is not a mere technical disagreement, but a fundamental one that must give us pause.

In 2013, I co-authored a bipartisan letter with Rep. David E. Price, D-N.C., that encouraged Obama to test the then newly elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, to determine if his more welcoming, moderate rhetoric (contrasted to his zealot predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) was sincere and could be translated into concrete concessions over its nuclear program through constructive engagement with the regime. My thinking at that time was straight forward and predicated on the reality of the Obama administration’s self-imposed constraints.

While administration policy stated the objective was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, there were many who doubted that they meant it. Recall former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s infamous gaffe during his Senate confirmation hearing that administration policy on Iran’s nuclear program was not one of prevention, but containment. For many of the administration’s foreign policy skeptics this was less a misstatement and more a revelation of fact. While the Obama administration repeatedly stated that the use of military force remained on the table in dealing with the Iranian nuclear question, no one, regional allies nor adversaries alike, found it credible.

A pre-emptive American military strike would not be desirable, but completely ruling it out meant that ensuring Iran does not get the nuclear bomb could only be achieved through a combination of sanctions and negotiations.

The United States and other P5+1 countries entered these negotiations from a position of strength, thanks to the successful impact of congressionally driven sanctions reluctantly endorsed by Obama and some of our negotiating partners. Now, lower oil prices have made the pain of sanctions even more pronounced causing real economic hardship on Iran and lessening its capacity to influence and destabilize the Middle East. Imagine how much worse the situation in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen would be with a less constrained Iran.

That raises a key point made by former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz in a compelling op-ed recently: “… negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.”

The high-stakes nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran must be re-evaluated in the context of the broader global and regional dynamics at play.

Some of the nations involved — Russia and China – are, at times, motivated in ways antithetical to American and Western security interests. Russia wants to diminish American power and influence in both Europe and the Middle East. Tellingly, Vladimir Putin recently authorized the sale of a powerful anti-aircraft missile system to the Iranians. Perhaps, Russia should be sitting on the Iranian side of the bargaining table?

China, always a very reluctant partner on Iranian sanctions, is driven by its insatiable appetite for oil as well as to pursuing its aggressive posture in the Western Pacific.

Since the announcement of the nuclear framework on April 2, there has been no abatement by the Iranian regime of the anti-Western, anti-American rhetoric, or of genocidal “wipe Israel off the map” threats.

What few are discussing, but may matter most with this potential agreement is the reaction of America’s Sunni Muslim partners in the region. The stated goal of the proposed framework is to stop Iran’s nuclear weapon program, yet, if the deal is a bad one, the very real possibility exists for further nuclear proliferation by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and maybe others. We are faced with the strong potential of a nuclearized Middle East during a time of state instability and irrational non-state actors. How would deterrence or mutually assured destruction unfold under these circumstances? The dangers would be incalculable, the potential for escalations near infinite.

I argue that now is the time to demonstrate resolve to the world by reaffirming our original objective – no Iranian nuclear weapons capacity. Let low oil prices take their toll on the Iranian regime and their Russian backers. Leave existing sanctions in place and enact stronger ones if it’s not too late.

If Iran is to survive economically, the Ayatollahs need a deal more than we do. Let’s act like it.

Rep. Charlie Dent is a Republican from Pennsylvania.

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You May Not Have Heard of This Dodd-Frank Provision, but It’s Saving Lives | Commentary

By Samir Goswami

Debate continues in Congress and among policymakers around changes to the Dodd-Frank Act. Last year’s budget bill included a last minute Wall Street-backed provision that rolls back a rule affecting derivatives, which some cite as a financial product that contributed to the 2008 economic crisis. Regardless of what further changes are made to Dodd-Frank, one section of the law has started to have a profound impact. This section (1502) requires companies in the United States to determine whether conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo are used in any of their products and report those findings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In the SEC’s own words, “Congress enacted Section 1502 of the Act because of concerns that the exploitation and trade of conflict minerals by armed groups is helping to finance conflict in the DRC region and is contributing to an emerging humanitarian crisis.”

The DRC has been in a state of violent conflict for nearly two decades, is plagued by countless militias that prey on the land and other people, and has almost no functional government or rule of law. With its economy in shambles and the majority of the population living in poverty, one might question how so many militias are able to stay in business, and with seeming impunity. But the DRC is rich in a number of valuable minerals. The militias have been able to gain control of many of the mines operating in the country and sell their plunder to Western technology and jewelry companies — and then, Western consumers. Militias are thus able to amass a great amount of wealth to pay their soldiers, providing greater incentives for people to join them.

The Dodd-Frank Act deals with four of these so-called conflict minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, sometimes collectively referred to as 3TG. The provision requires companies in the U.S. to analyze their supply chains to determine whether, at any point in the manufacturing process, their company uses any of these minerals, and whether those minerals came from the DRC or surrounding countries. They must report their findings to the government and make their findings public on their website so that consumers are aware of the origins of their products.

Some companies have responded, but some have also complained that the provision is overly cumbersome and places excessive requirements and cost burdens on them. There are also those who argue the measure negatively affects the situation in the DRC by closing down mines that previously employed thousands of civilians.

Despite these debates, we should not lose sight of the measure’s intent to help end violent conflict in the DRC by cutting off militias’ primary source of funding — and there is initial evidence that it is working. Since the Dodd-Frank Act was passed, militias’ funding from mining of conflict minerals has dropped by 65 percent. The Congolese army and the U.N. Force Intervention Brigade have wrested many mines from the control of violent militias, diminishing the atmosphere of impunity in which they operated in those areas. The situation in the DRC is still dismal, but the intent of this provision of Dodd-Frank should be given a chance. And conflict minerals are not the only materials for consumers to be concerned about — the International Labor Organization estimates that 14.2 million people around the world are victims of forced labor and exploitation in economic activities and that this represents $43 billion in annual profits across a variety of industries including construction, manufacturing, mining, fishing and utilities.

Procurement and sourcing managers already use a host of online tools to vet for financial, environmental or political risks in their supply chains — why not use the same data driven approach to vet suppliers and contractors for how they treat their workers? While we may argue about the appropriate regulatory and policy frameworks required to eliminate human rights violations, there shouldn’t be any opposition to conducting due diligence to ensure that we’re not funding exploitation, especially when we know that these risks exist. That is the broader aim of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act and similar measures — realizing that supply chains can be tools for economic empowerment and opportunity — not sources of exploitation and unjust resource depletion.

Samir Goswami is a regional sales director at LexisNexis, the world’s largest database of primary law and news archives.

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April 16, 2015

This Is No Time for Partisan Politics: Vote on Loretta Lynch Now | Commentary

Sharpton is calling on the Senate to vote on Lynch's nomination immediately. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sharpton is calling on the Senate to vote on Lynch’s nomination immediately. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

By Al Sharpton

More than 150 days ago, President Barack Obama nominated Loretta Lynch as the next U.S. attorney general following Eric Holder’s decision to step down. More than 48 days ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm Lynch as the top law enforcement official in the nation. And yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., still refuses to schedule a vote. At a time when key issues important to the American people like protection of voting rights, law enforcement accountability/reform and oversight of numerous areas demand leadership, McConnell and many in his party are stalling.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Lynch has spent a significant amount of her tremendous career going after corrupt politicians, mobsters and criminals that other less-capable individuals might be too afraid or hesitant to investigate and pursue. Time and time again, she has proven to possess the fortitude, insight, intelligence, courage and determination we as a nation need in a top law enforcement official. Instead of providing a speedy confirmation process for such a qualified and esteemed nominee, those wishing to hold us back are once again doing what they do best – obstructing. Full story

Changing the Political Landscape, One Race at a Time | Letter to the Editor

By Matt Walter

In last week’s Roll Call, Stuart Rothenberg waded into the critically important, yet under-reported topic of state and local elections (“RSLC Presents GOP State Level Gains Out of Context,” Roll Call, April 8). It’s exciting to see a well-respected federal elections analyst give attention to the levels of government that have the most pointed impact on people’s homes, jobs, roads and children’s education. Unfortunately, Rothenberg’s analysis of two recent local Republican victories in Democratic territory fundamentally misses current state-level trends and is simply inaccurate when it refers to these races as taking place in “competitive or even Republican-leaning districts.”

In Pennsylvania, Rothenberg misunderstood Martina White’s victory to become the second House Republican from Philadelphia when he attributed it in part to a “split in the Democratic Party.” In truth, this talented 26-year-old financial adviser ran a better campaign and won because she was the right candidate, with a clear vision for a better future for her district. White brought together an unexpected coalition of voters from both sides of the political aisle to carry her to victory in a district President Barack Obama won by nearly 15 points.

Her win was neither easy nor insignificant. A Republican has not won the 170th District seat since George W. Bush was in the White House in 2006 when Democratic voter registration outweighed Republicans 53 percent to 39 percent. Following almost 10 years of growing registration on the Democratic side and redistricting, White took the seat back for our party this year when Democratic registration now outweighs Republicans by 30 points.

In California, Rothenberg correctly noted Andrew Do’s race saw “enthusiastic support” from his former boss, current state Sen. Janet Nguyen who previously held Do’s Board of Supervisors seat. Having the support of Nguyen — who won her senate race last November by 16 points in a district Obama carried by nearly 9 points — is welcome when trying to keep a supervisors’ seat in a district where registered Democrats outweigh Republicans. Do campaigned tirelessly and fought for the votes of those in his community by sharing his message of open and innovative governing. In the end, he turned out enough voters in an extremely close race to beat a better-known, formerly-elected Democrat. The Democrat he beat even held this same supervisor seat immediately before Nguyen.

Rothenberg also missed the broad impact of Nguyen’s story: Her recent election to the state senate made her the country’s first Vietnamese-American woman state legislator and was one of the key wins that broke the Democratic super-majority in the California Senate. She won by sharing a deep commitment to delivering results on state and local issues in an era when Americans are supporting responsive local government.

These wins are significant as the latest in a trend in our party that began when Obama controlled a completely Democratic federal government in 2008, leading to unchecked growth in government, federal overreach into the states and the passage of Obamacare. Voters rejected that old top-down, one-size-fits-all Democratic approach and have since welcomed the bottom-up, innovative and open solutions being implemented by state and local Republicans. Voters embraced a new type of Republican candidate — like White, Do and Nguyen — running different kinds of races for a better type of government.

In the 2010 election cycle, Republicans flipped 21 state legislative chambers, taking control of more legislative seats than any time since 1928. In 2011 and 2012, Republicans again had a net gain in state legislative chambers. And for a third-straight cycle of expansion, Republicans in 2014 won control of more chambers than they have ever held in history — a super-majority of legislative majorities with 69 out of 99 state chambers. 23 of those majority chambers are in states Obama won twice.

Each race and each win matters and continues moving state and local governments toward effective and responsive governing that makes a tangible difference in people’s lives. Over the past three cycles, Republicans have netted more than 900 new legislative seats. New victories such as the recent wins in Philadelphia and California are a further progression of this six-year trend.

It’s easy to forget in Washington that effective politics results from the right leaders delivering the right policies that make people’s lives better. That’s how Republicans at the state level have reached historic highs across red, purple and even blue states. That’s how White, Do and Nguyen were elected. And as long as state and local Republicans continue delivering effective local leadership while the old, top-down Democratic bureaucracy reigns in Washington, Republican governing will continue to succeed and spread, one seat at a time.

Matt Walter is president of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

Related:

RSLC Presents GOP State Level Gains Out of Context

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Time for Congress to Reform Cable TV Laws | Commentary

By Matthew M. Polka

With Washington, D.C., divided on a number key policy fronts, now is perhaps the perfect time for Congress to focus on an issue that has bipartisan support: Overhauling the 1992 Cable Act and scrapping many badly outdated video regulations.

A great place to start is with the requirement called the basic tier buy-through. This regulation mandates that cable subscribers buy all local TV stations prior to accessing any other video service offered by their cable company. A real-world example shows how this particular cable statute distorts the market and drives up the price of cable by government fiat. Full story

After King v. Burwell, Republicans’ Goal Should Be Federalism on Steroids | Commentary

By Paul Howard and Yevgeniy Feyman

There are three simple numbers Republicans in Congress need to keep their eyes on in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision in King v. Burwell, no matter what the outcome: 28, 60 and 67.

28: The number of GOP governors in states with a federal health insurance exchange where a combined total of 6.5 million subsidy-eligible residents are at risk of losing those subsidies and their insurance if the plaintiffs win in King. The Department of Health and Human Service will offer these governors a quick fix: Simply deem the federal exchanges an “exchange established by the state” for the purpose of receiving federal subsidies. Without a Republicans alternative for these 28 governors, HHS’ escape hatch is going to look very attractive.

60: The number of votes Republicans must rally to overcome a Democratic filibuster of legislation that might put the president in an awkward position — such as repealing the individual mandate in exchange for allowing the subsidies to continue to flow for an interim period.

67: The number of votes Republicans need in the Senate to overcome a presidential veto — an impossible number. Republicans would have to be content to make Democrats take a hard vote on a full “repeal and replace” bill, losing the battle, but hope that it would set them up to win the war by maintaining the Senate and taking the White House in 2017.

These simple political realities make immediate goals of repeal-replace bills impossible. Instead, Republicans need a “bridge”: A solution to get them through a potential win in King that doesn’t leave Republican governors out to dry, but still allows serious health care reform.

One such bridge could come in the form of the so-called “State Innovation Waivers,” under section 1332 of the law, slated to begin in 2017. This little known element of Obamacare allows states to waive various parts of the law’s requirements including “essential health benefit” standards, requirements for exchanges, premium tax credits, and even the employer and individual mandates. In return, states receive a block grant of funding that would otherwise flow through Obamacare’s mechanisms.

States could combine these waivers and existing Medicaid waivers (so-called “section 1115 waivers”) to receive a block grant of funding that would encompass an even larger population, allowing bigger reforms. (Standardizing the combination of these waivers could appeal to both red and blue states.)
The catch is the administration’s bait-and-switch approach to the Medicaid expansion. While HHS has promised flexibility, very little has been offered so far, making governors hesitant to propose ambitious reforms.

The solution is simple: Congress should write flexibility directly into new legislation. Allow states to experiment with the flexibility of 1332 waivers, requiring “auto-approval” so long as reforms attain similar coverage and remain deficit neutral.

Similarly, Congress should standardize Medicaid’s 1115 waiver system, allowing states to experiment with standardized approaches — including cost sharing and chronic disease management programs for Medicaid recipients — that would allow states to fast-track credible reform experiments, with stringent outcome reporting requirements.

This approach lets states implement standardized Medicaid and exchange reforms, knowing that the administration can’t pull the rug out from under them.

Policymakers should also consider taking the waivers to another level — offer the ability to wrap together other streams of federal funding, like supporting housing around drug treatment or prisoner re-entry programs. These mega-block grants would allow states to test more ambitious strategies for helping high risk, low-income residents. (House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has proposed a similar approach, called Opportunity grants.)

In a nutshell, Congress would call the president’s bluff. He’s said he’s in favor of state flexibility, allowing states to experiment. This would be an opportunity for the president to walk the walk on federalism.
Republicans have been hoping to replace Obamacare at a single stroke since 2010, either through one election or one Supreme Court case, only to be disappointed. The math is against them today as well. The advantage of a waiver/template approach that it works within the framework of the law, addresses conservatives’ core concerns and promotes entitlement reform along the way.

This strategy could be implemented in one large bill, or tested via a series of amendments to legislation allowing federal exchange subsidies to flow until 2017 if the plaintiff’s win in King.

Conservatives must acknowledge short-term realities while working toward long-term goals. While King won’t allow them to overturn the law, Obamacare’s own provisions allow a state-by-state repeal and replace strategy that helps set the stage for a larger health care debate in 2017.

Paul Howard is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress. Yevgeniy Feyman is a Manhattan Institute fellow and deputy director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress.

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Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Playing Politics With Our Health | Commentary

By Jeff Volek

Later this year, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture  will release the latest edition of their dietary guidelines, which sets the agenda for what Americans should eat to maintain a healthy weight, prevent disease and sustain overall wellness. Since the guidelines were first released 35 years ago, various recommendations have come and gone. But the guidelines have been unwavering in their insistence that Americans consume the majority of their daily allowance of calories in the form of carbohydrates.

However, instead of guiding Americans toward better health, the results have been the exact opposite.

Since the dietary guidelines were first released, adult obesity rates have doubled and they’re set to increase another 50 percent by 2030. Childhood obesity and diabetes diagnoses have tripled. Two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, one-third are obese and roughly 25 million have diabetes. Our damaged health is also hurting our wallets: we spend $250 billion annually managing diabetes, a number expected to double by 2020.

If the current dietary guidelines are failing in their sole purpose of making American’s healthier, and there are other scientifically-proven approaches to having a healthy diet, why have they been ignored?

This is the question 30 Senators, led by Sen. John Thune and Sen. Angus King, and 70 House Members led by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., posed in a recent letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding inconsistencies found within this year’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report. Both letters state that the current DGAC report ignores peer-reviewed scientific evidence that contradict DGAC claims on what types of food — specifically red and processed meats — can constitute a healthy diet.

Because agency leaders rely on the DGAC report to develop the dietary guidelines, the senators and House members asked Burwell and Vilsack to reconsider current research and scientific literature before finalizing the guidelines, and directed them to ensure adherence to their congressional charters. But shouldn’t this have always been the case?

In the past, the rush to support DGAC recommendations and dietary guidelines without a serious discussion around the science behind them has led to negative outcomes. For instance, we recently saw the vilification and then reversal of position on various fats, including saturated fats and trans fats.

Another significant problem with trying to have an informed and reasonable discussion on the state of nutrition science and the public health benefits is that well-meaning, albeit misguided interest groups have consistently led the lobbying charge to implement what they believe to be good nutrition policy, despite consistent evidence to the contrary.

Once such group that voiced support for the most recent guidelines was the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, which is a subsidiary of the group Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI often accuses industry groups of being solely motivated by the food industry or economic self-interest. While there may be an economic benefit for industry associations, it doesn’t mean they are wrong.

As a dietitian and scientist, I have published dozens of peer-reviewed studies demonstrating the positive impact that decreased carbohydrate intake can have on performance, weight management, reducing cardiovascular risk, and overall health. And I’m not alone — dozens of my colleagues around the country have come to similar conclusions.

Advocating for the restriction of saturated fat, as the current DGAC report and previous guidelines have recommended, requires that people eat fewer full-fat animal products, including red meats, eggs and dairy. This also means people eat more sugars and processed starches, which are “highly reinforcing,” in that one can consume more calories without feeling full. The excessive consumption of carbohydrates is the primary cause of obesity and diabetes — and it’s not a stretch to implicate the dietary guidelines in these epidemics plaguing our country.

Unfortunately, advocating for lower-carbohydrate, higher-fat diets would fly in the face of everything the DGAC, HHS and the USDA have recommended over the past three decades, and it flies in the face of self-proclaimed nutrition advocacy organizations, such as CSPI. It’s time for all Americans, and especially all members of Congress, to ask why we’re sticking with an ineffective approach to deciding what is best for our nation’s health. Such an about face would be an acknowledgement that the process to date has been misguided. But if we’re serious about saving lives and money, then that is exactly what must be done.

Hartzler, Thune, King and the 97 others who expressed their concerns about scientific integrity of this year’s DGAC report to the USDA and to HHS should be applauded. Their efforts resulted in an extension of the public comment period that will give researchers, public health advocates and nutritionists a chance to openly discuss and consider all proven scientific research and options that may shift our nation in a healthier direction.

Jeff S. Volek, Ph.D., R.D., is a registered dietitian and full professor in the Department of Human Sciences at Ohio State University.

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April 15, 2015

A Peculiar Identification | Letter to the Editor

Emma Dumain’s April 10 blog post, “House Democrats Forced to Choose Sides in Iran Debate” features both a false assumption and a peculiar identification.

Dumain states that “a large number of House Democrats will, sooner rather than later, have to decide to whom they owe the most loyalty: their president, who opposes congressional action he says will undermine administration-level negotiations and diplomacy; or Israel, an important ally that could be inherently threatened by an Iran with nuclear capabilities.” This is a false dichotomy.

Democrats in either chamber, like Republicans, have to choose whether the administration’s reported arrangement with the Iranian regime strengthens or weakens America’s foreign policy and national interests. Whether this choice pleases or displeases the administration, Israel, or for that matter the mullahs in Tehran, is a secondary concern at best.

The peculiar identification in the blog is Rep. Steve Israel’s, D-N.Y., religious affiliation. The writer calls him a “Jewish lawmaker.” For some reason, this elected official’s religion is noteworthy when the religions of Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,  Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., are not even mentioned.

What warranted the inclusion of the New York lawmaker’s religion and not those of the other representatives named? Is the congressman’s religion noteworthy because Iran is in full violation of the U.N. Charter with its repeated threats to destroy Israel or is this odd inclusion meant to suggest that he, unlike his colleagues whose religious affiliations are left unsaid is primarily influenced by his religion?

The false choice pitting the administration against Israel over Iran when the fundamental question is one of congressional promotion of U.S. national interests and the singular identification of one congressman’s religion do not well serve Roll Call readers.

Sean Durns is a media assistant for CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America

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The Opportunity Challenge | Pennsylvania Avenue

Scottsdale, Ariz. — Last October, a conspiracy got hatched in Beaver Creek, Colo., to change the future of America — for the better. Its goals got unveiled at an education innovation conference I attend here every year co-sponsored by Arizona State University and the high-tech investment banking firm GSV.

The Beaver Creek gathering was attended by 140 educators, entrepreneurs, foundation executives and investors and moderated by “Good to Great” business strategy luminary Jim Collins. The group came up with the ambitious and idealistic goal insuring that every American child has an equal opportunity to participate in the future, regardless of income or ZIP code.

That’s obviously not the case today; 75 percent of children born in the top quarter of the income spectrum graduate college, but only 8 percent in the bottom quartile. Seventy percent of those kids never make it into the middle class.

The Beaver Creek conspirators agreed that tackling the lack of equal opportunity is essential to undo what you could call “the Great Stall” in the life prospects for most Americans. Gross domestic product per capita doubled from 1950 to 1975, but it’s been flat ever since. Median household income is below what it was in 1999. The baby boom generation ranked first in the world in high-school completion and third in college completion; millennials rank 10th and 13th, respectively. And income inequality has tripled since 1975.

How to reignite opportunity in America? The Beaver Creek group settled on 10 pillars of action, of which I think the most important are:

1. Give every child access to quality early learning. Neuroscience has established that 85 percent of human brain development occurs during the first five years of life, but the U.S. devotes 98 percent of education spending to the years after age 5. Children who are regularly read and talked to by adults — mostly middle class and above — have heard 30 million more words by the time they reach kindergarten than kids who aren’t. Fifty-two percent of poor kids are not ready for school. Quality pre-school can be done better and cheaper than Head Start does it. Congress ought to block-grant Head Start money to the states and let them figure out how to spend it better.

2. Improve leadership training for public school principals and show them how to match the top-performing schools in the nation, public, private and charter. America needs a West Point for principals.

3. Give kids mentors. The national ratio of students to counselors in 500 to 1, and having a mentor doubles the chance that a child will go to college.

4. Accelerate the use of technology in classrooms. U.S. schools still operate on the “industrial model” of the early 20th century — a teacher talking to students sitting at desks. New technology (on display in abundance in Scottsdale every year) makes it possible to tailor lessons to individual students, track their progress, connect with their parents, make learning fun and help teachers share ideas. Log onto EdSurge.com to see.

5. Make it possible for people to keep learning their whole lives. It’s not true that “college isn’t worth it.” A majority of jobs in the new American economy requires post-secondary education. Most young people will change jobs 15 times over their lifetimes. And innovative institutions such as Arizona State have developed programs to offer credentials and degrees almost entirely online.

6. Invest much more in brain research — the last frontier of science — to match teaching methods to learning differences.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is making it a pillar of her 2016 presidential campaign that every child should have the opportunities her granddaughter will have. Republicans ought to accept the goal and compete with her to reach it — undoubtedly using different methods. The Beaver Creek group has shown the way.

Morton Kondracke was executive editor of Roll Call and wrote Pennsylvania Avenue from 1991 to 2011. He is co-authoring a biography of Jack Kemp due out in September.

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A Deal Is a Deal | Commentary

By Tim Canoll

In recent weeks, it has become abundantly clear that Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are in breach of their air service agreements with the U.S. and that the Obama administration must act swiftly to restore balance. These countries have unfairly subsidized three of their airlines — Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways — and have thus posed a direct threat to the economic security of our U.S. aviation industry and the 11 million jobs that it supports.

Last week, the U.S. government opened a period for public comment in regards to the massive subsidies these Gulf airline carriers receive, and we are pleased the administration is taking this issue seriously. We urge members of Congress to also weigh in by joining our call for a level, competitive playing field for U.S. airlines and aviation workers and stopping these carriers from exploiting loopholes in our Open Skies agreements.

Since 2004, the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have provided $42 billion in subsidies and other unfair benefits to these three airlines. Because these airlines receive massive government subsidies, they are growing at an astounding rate and expanding their global presence without the normal concern for financial profitability.

That means our airlines aren’t competing with other airlines — they are competing with the treasuries of very wealthy nations.

The U.S. aviation industry is not alone: Carsten Spohr, chairman of the executive board and CEO of the Lufthansa Group, says that other global airlines are being “increasingly attacked” by heavily subsidized Middle Eastern carriers. A basic premise of Open Skies is that airlines would compete on a level playing field, but today, we instead find ourselves competing with gulf carriers receiving blank checks from their governments’ coffers. In addition, the governments of Germany and France have publicly stated their concerns about the massive government subsidies being provided to the Gulf carriers and the impact they have on the aviation marketplace.

When James Hogan, president and CEO of Etihad Airways, was recently asked about his airline receiving $6 billion in equity infusions, he could have denied it, but he didn’t. Instead, he defended the infusions saying, “Why can’t a state invest in growing an airline to create jobs?”

This violation of our international agreements is unacceptable and threatens the careers of highly trained U.S. pilots and others in the aviation industry.

It’s time for the United States to tell the UAE and Qatar that a deal is a deal. The Obama administration should open consultations with Qatar and the UAE immediately, as allowed by the existing air transport agreements, to get the facts about these airlines’ finances. In addition, the administration should request a freeze on current passenger service by these countries’ airlines while consultations are under way.

We need our government — both in the executive branch and our elected officials in Congress — alongside us in the fight for a strong and vibrant U.S. airline industry. All we ask is that U.S. companies have a fair opportunity to compete in the global marketplace so that they may continue to support North American aviation jobs.

Capt. Tim Canoll is president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International.

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April 14, 2015

What Are the Charges Against Menendez? | A Question of Ethics

Q. As a resident of New Jersey, I have seen many different perspectives on the recent indictment of Bob Menendez. Some here in New Jersey are supporting him, while others have called for his resignation. What I want to know is what exactly the charges are against Menendez and what the government needs to prove. I’ve generally heard it referred to as a bribery case, but are there any other charges against Menendez? Full story

ESEA Reauthorization: A Chance to Right a Wrong | Commentary

By Jitu Brown and Judith Browne Dianis

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, legislation designed to support education as a force for equal opportunity. As part of his “war on poverty” agenda, Johnson was convinced the law would close the achievement gap. As Congress seeks to reauthorize ESEA this year, there is an incredible opportunity to finally right some of the grave wrongs in the public education system that have sustained the opportunity gap for low-income children.

In 2001, ESEA got off track with the passage of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind promising achievement and accountability. Public schools have since been mired in drills of standardized testing, with a focus on test results as the sole measure of achievement. Instead of increasing investment and resources for success however, test results have led to the closure of neighborhood public schools at dramatic rates across the country. As communities of color lose their schools in the wake of disinvestment and high-stakes testing, public education dollars are being diverted toward privately operated charter schools. The irony of it all: These charters, many of which are dismally low performing and sometimes profit from taxpayer dollars, are run with practically no oversight or accountability.

The testing craze has also led to the rise of zero-tolerance school discipline policies, pushing many children out of classrooms. Children seen as having disciplinary problems are treated as disposable in the name of “achievement.” To avoid a failing school label, more and more students are simply pushed out. These policies lead to high dropout rates, lower academic achievement and students being routed on pathways to prison instead of receiving much needed support.

Unfortunately, ESEA has helped advance an education “reform” agenda, which is hurting the low-income children who were supposed to be its beneficiaries. These are disproportionately children of color. In the 2012-2013 school year, for example, 50 Chicago public schools were closed. While African-Americans made up 43 percent of all Chicago students, they were 87 percent of the students affected by the closures. Last year, in New Orleans’ Recovery School District, the city closed its last remaining public school, making it the nation’s first all-charter district. Of the students impacted, 1,000 were Black. Only five were White. The racial disparities in school discipline are also stark, with Black and Latino children pushed out of classrooms at rates significantly higher than their White counterparts for the same behaviors.

These policies have not produced higher quality education. Public schools must now compete with privately operated charter schools for federal funding and local tax dollars. Children of color are increasingly pushed out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system. School closures disrupt the education of students who must be relocated and shuffled around, sometimes multiple times. Fifty years after ESEA, and 14 years after its reauthorization to No Child Left Behind, the achievement gap still exists.

This is not the legacy envisioned by Johnson, and it is not the legacy that should be carried forward as Congress aims to reauthorize ESEA. Education can indeed be a powerful lever out of poverty, but only if this moment is used to reinvest in the needs of our most struggling schools and communities so that all students can succeed. This means a reauthorized ESEA that stops the misuse of standardized testing for high stakes decisions and ends aggressive, unregulated expansion of privately operated charter schools that are flooding our cities. It means establishing a moratorium on closing public schools and providing resources for community-guided models for improving them, ensuring that local problems are addressed by community-driven solutions. It means providing funds to encourage common sense discipline practices that support students and create nurturing environments.

As the promise of ESEA has become more elusive in the midst of school closures, pushouts and turnarounds, too many children are slipping through the cracks. Congress must use this opportunity to commit to the success of every student, to invest in them by investing in their schools and communities. In order to truly bring equity into our school system, where all students have the opportunity to succeed, we can do better — and we must do better.

Jitu Brown is the national coordinator of the Journey for Justice Alliance, a coalition of grassroots education groups that works across 21 cities. Judith Browne Dianis is the co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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